Crunchsports.com's guide to the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland, courtesy of Bettingpro.com tipster Ross Aylward...
The European Masters tees off for the 41st time this morning and low scores will be the order of the day in the crisp, mountain air.
Due to the altitude, the ball flies further here (around 10 per cent) and with the course measuring just 6,889 yards, length off the tee is not a factor for any player. Not surprisingly, it's been the scene of nine holes of 27 and 18 of 60 (both Tour records), and while it's been toughened up a bit in recent years, that didn't stop Thomas Bjorn shooting 62 in the final round 12 months ago to win by four shots. The great Dane is back to defend his title this week and has been chalked up at 25/1 by Paddy Power, who make Swede Peter Hanson their 16/1 favourite with last week's winner Peter Lawrie next in the betting at 20/1.
The last three winners have all achieved a winning total of at least 20 under and with benign weather forecast, we can expect something similar this year. The longer hitters will be able to take advantage of the four par-5s and some will even attempt to drive holes six and seven; both reachable par-4s. However, this tree-lined course does require a degree of accuracy too, and the key stats this week will be greens in regulation - three of the last four winners ranked either first or second for GIR - and scrambling, with those who can get up and down from just off the small, upturned-saucer like greens likely to be marking a birdie on their card.
My Three Against the Field:-
Peter Hansen is a poor favourite this week as he has no course form to speak of and rarely converts a winning opportunity, while Lawrie is attempting to win back-to-back for the first time in his career. I can't see it myself. Instead, let's dig a little deeper down the betting list for some value, with Austrian Bernd Wiesberger the first port of call. This is almost a home game for the 26-year-old, who hails from Vienna, and he will be more acclimatised to the rarefied air than most as he warmed up for this by playing in the Zurich Open, a pro-am which he won with two rounds of 67. That was his first European start since winning the Lyoness Open on home soil at the end of July, his second Tour Victory, and you can ignore his missed cut on his debut here last year as that was coming on the back of a disappointing play-off defeat in the Johnnie Walker Championship. Long off the tee (over 300 yards on average) and accurate with his irons (hits over 70% of greens), he has the game to shoot the requisite low score around here.
The Swede plays much of his golf on the PGA Tour these days but nearly always contends when playing on this side of the pond, with each of his last three starts on European soil yielding top-10 finishes: eighth at the Scottish Open, seventh in Paris and sixth in Germany back in June. Since then, he's been back to the States and after pulling out of the Wyndham Championship with an upset stomach, produced one of the rounds of the week at The Barclays, shooting 65 on Friday to make the cut comfortably. It all went to pieces a bit at the weekend but the Black Course is a brute and this much easier test (and company) should see him in a far better light. Aggressive off the tee, he will be able to take advantage of this week's par-5s, as he did when shooting a closing 63 here 12 months ago, and he's in far better form this time round.
The final pick goes to another Swede and one in the form of his life. I knew little about him to be honest until the start of this month, which is when his incredible run of form on the Nationwide Tour began. Victory in the Finnish Challenge, on only his second start, was quickly followed by another win in the Norwegian Challenge, and he made it three wins in five starts when taking last week's Rolex Trophy in nearby Geneva, thus earning himself instant promotion to the European Tour. Other players have achieved the same feat, most notably Alexander Noren, a close friend who interestingly went on to win this title in 2009, but none have done it in such a short space of time. That marks him down as an exceptional talent and while this is undoubtedly a step up in class, the 26-year-old will have confidence in spades and must really fancy his chances of making an instant splash. Ladbrokes clearly believe so as they are quoting just 33/1, so let's grab some of the 55s while it lasts.